Nutrition and Exercise
This information is not only good for pregnancy, but it's good for the whole family.
What's the healthiest? Low fat diet or whole foods diet? The problem with low fat foods is that they may be lower in fat, but they are higher in MSG, sugars, and artificial sweeteners. These ingredients are much more harmful than fat. In fact, fats are necessary to a healthy diet. The best way to lose weight and/or be healthy (which, when you are pregnant, you don't want to lose weight) is to maintain a whole foods diet.
Whole food means that the food hasn't been processed or refined. It is a food that is in its original form. The best way to eat is to cook from scratch using whole foods. As a pregnant woman, the necessary whole foods are:
Whole grains- you need 8-11 servings per day.
Many people cut out grains and flours of all kinds because there is all this hype about how bad flour is for you. But, your body NEEDS whole grains. The flour that is bad for you is the refined, white flour that is used most of the time. Whole grains contain fiber, iron, protein, calcium, essential carbohydrates and sugars, and minerals. This includes whole grain breads and cereals, whole grain pasta, whole grain rice, barley, oats, quinoa, etc. Freshly ground and soaked grains are the best for maximum nutrient absorption and digestion. When combined with another protein food such as legumes, they form amino acid and B vitamin complements.
See Sue Gregg's website and the Weston A Price Foundation for more information on grinding and soaking your grains. See benefits of grinding and soaking, in an easy to follow manner at Passionate Homemaking.
Currently, I soak some things and plan to buy a grain mill soon.
Fruits and Vegetables- you need 4-6 servings per day, heavy on the vegetables because they do not contain sugar.
Fruits and veggies give your body countless vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, fiber, carbohydrates, and other nutrients. Organic is best because they are not sprayed with pesticides and herbicides (which are harmful for anyone).
Proteins- you need 80-100 grams a day. Enough protein can almost eliminate your chances of pre-eclampsia and toxemia during pregnancy. Protein and amino acids contribute to the physical growth of your baby. Protein is necessary for developing the right amount of blood cells, and it gives you more energy! It is important to get protein from a variety of sources including:
- Pastured meats, poultry, and eggs (high in iron, complete protein and fat, and rich in minerals)
- Nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews, etc)
- Seeds (flax, sunflower, pumpkin)
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc)
- Whole grains (wheat, spelt, quinoa, oats, etc)
- Nutritional yeast (this can be found in health food stores; we sprinkle it on fresh, oven popped popcorn)
- Beans and lentils
You NEED healthy fats. Good sources are avocadoes, nuts, olive oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil (research shows that even though this has saturated fat in it, there are many nutrients in it that counter act the saturated fat; we use it in some things such as baked oatmeal, muffins, etc), butter (same as coconut oil), wheat germ, eggs, and milk. Fats provide energy, and aid in the absorption of calcium and Vitamin A.
A lot of water (at LEAST 8 cups a day) is absolutely necessary for pregnant women (well, really for anyone). It helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, and early contractions. Naturally decaffeinated and herbal teas are included in this category. My suggestion is to stick to water and (naturally decaf.) teas only. If you want coffee, drink naturally decaffeinated. Do not drink sodas because not only do they contain a LOT of high fructose corn syrup (or artificial sweeteners in diet soda), they have caffeine, and they are carbonated which breaks down muscle mass. They are totally empty calories and bad for you. I have to remind myself of this one J.
Organic and why it's important
Organic foods are not sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Pesticides and herbicides can alter hormones, can disrupt immune systems, and can cause certain types of cancer (breast, uterine, prostate cancer, and leukemia). See "external toxins" for more detailed information on what pesticides and herbicides can do. Organic meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not contain hormones, antibiotics, steroids, or pesticides. When I can't buy them at the Farmer's Market, I buy hormone/antibiotic free animals at HEB or Whole Foods. Also, Wal-Mart actually has chicken made by a company called Harvest Land, that is hormone/antibiotic/steroid free, and they are inexpensive (I'm talking about $4 for a whole chicken). Meats, poultry, milk, eggs, etc are the highest on the list to buy organic, if possible.
- Local harvest is a great resource for finding CSA's, Farmer's markets, Farms, etc that sell organic foods in your area.
- A great resource to find out more information on organic foods and why they are important is Organic Consumers.
Eating grass-fed/pastured animals and eggs is more important to me, even, than organic.
Pastured means that the animals are not confined and are able to graze the pasture. Not only are the animals able to eat grass, they are able to walk around, which means they exercise. Because of this, the meat is lower in fat.
The benefits of grass-fed vs. grain fed are that pastured animals (beef, pork, chickens, etc) contain more omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, and Vitamin A, beta carotene, lecithin, and are lower in fat. Pastured animals and eggs contain no hormones, antibiotics, or steroids. And, most of the time, they don't contain pesticides.
I currently buy all of my meat, poultry, and eggs from the Sunset Valley Farmer's Market in which I know they are grass-fed/pastured. I buy my milk and butter from Whole Foods (Remember When Dairy brand; low-temperature pasteurized and non-homogenized) or HEB (Central Market brand… when I'm out of RWD milk), and I have done my research to know these are grass fed.
A great resource for finding grass fed meats, poultry, and eggs is Eat Wild. Not only will you get a lot of information, you can search for local farmers that sell pastured meat, poultry, and eggs.
Real Foods has some more information on why to eat pastured animals and eggs.
Foods, drinks, other things to limit/avoid
- Food coloring
- Artificial flavors and sweeteners
- Caffeine- Some is okay, but excess can cause miscarriage and/or early labor. Also, if you drink this, you need to drink more water to counter act it. Caffeine is a diuretic. It depletes your body of necessary water.
- Nitrates- these are found in lunch meats, hot dogs, and bacon that is not specially made nitrate-free.
- Refined sugars and flours- these can cause diabetes and can alter brain chemistry. They do nothing good for you.
- Hydrogenated oils ("trans fat")- this raises the bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol. This oil is found in many packaged foods and commercially fried foods.
- High fructose corn syrup- found in almost every canned, packaged product. Look at labels!!
- Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs- for obvious reasons.
If you already had an exercise program before you became pregnant, you can continue what you were doing. The only stipulations are that it cannot be real rigorous, and it needs to be non-weight bearing. If you didn't exercise before, walking daily, swimming, and prenatal yoga are good forms of exercise to begin. Exercise is SO important for you and baby. It strengthens your body for delivery, helps with common discomforts (backache, constipation etc), gives you energy, helps with hormonal and mental struggles (depression, anxiety, mood swings), decreased risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes; there is a likelihood for less fetal distress in labor, shorter labor, etc. Ask your doctor or midwife before continuing or beginning an exercise program to make sure it is okay for you individually.
Common discomforts and natural remedies
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are very common discomforts, especially in the first few months of pregnancy. It occurs because your body is having to use so many hormones to develop the baby. Here are some natural remedies that you can try:
- Keep hydrated. Becoming dehydrated will only make it worse.
- Eat a diet of whole foods; avoid processed and fried foods
- Drink liquids in between meals instead of with them
- Eat high protein meals
- Eat small meals, 4-6 times a day
- Eat a cracker or piece of bread before getting out of bed in the morning.
- Take B-6, three times a day
- Ginger root, taken 6 times a day
- Mint tea
- Eat protein in the middle of the night (if you're up!)
- Electrolytes (Emergen-C, Gatorade, etc)
Heart burn is another very common discomfort; I had this issue with both pregnancies. Not only is your stomach getting smaller, it's getting further up in your body. Some ways to alleviate this are:
- Small, frequent meals
- Limit or cut out spicy foods or acidic foods (citrus, tomato based products, carbonated beverages, vinegar, hot sauce, etc)
- Consuming NO liquids about an hour before bedtime
- Drink less at one time, don't drink fluids with meals (it dilutes the enzymes in the mouth and acid in the stomach causing the body to produce more acid)
- Papaya enzymes with meals (I took these; they are basically a more natural form of Tums)
- Peppermint tea (for some people this makes it worse, for me it helped)
- Ginger tea (this helps with nausea too)
- Sleep at a slight incline
Eat yogurt and/or drink milk
Back pain is caused by increased weight pulling your spine forward and shifting your center of gravity. Sometimes, the baby is literally laying on your sciatic nerve (this was an issue I had with both!). Some preventatives and remedies:
- Have good posture (don't lean over; sit up straight)
- Apply heat to your lower back
- Warm bath
- Lift with knees, not back
- Don't overdo it! I would often have a lot more problems when I was up cleaning the house all day. Do things a little bit at a time.
- Don't take medication unless necessary as they may be harmful to baby
The best piece of advice I can give to prevent this is to take a food based prenatal vitamin. Other ways to prevent and treat constipation are:
- Drink LOTS of water
- Eats lots of fruits and veggies
- Eat lots of whole grains
- Avoid dairy products and red meat
- Avoid processed foods such as white sugar and white flours.
- Limit caffeine (mainly because this can be a cause of dehydration)
- Exercise (regular)
- Do not wait if you need to go to the bathroom. Go when ya gotta go!
- Do not take laxatives during pregnancy. They can cause miscarriage or early onset of labor (they make your stomach cramp). Stool softeners are okay, but other options are better.
- If necessary, use a glycerin suppository to relieve the lower bowel. Once hard stools have been moved, use preventative measures.
- Prevent hemorrhoids by preventing constipation. If you do get them, Witchazel helps to relieve the swelling (soak cotton balls in this).
Leg cramps are much of the time caused by too little calcium. If you are taking your vitamin and multimineral, you won't have as much of a problem with this. Some preventative measures and remedies:
- Get plenty of calcium: dark, leafy, green vegetables, salmon, nuts, seeds, molasses, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, etc.
- Exercise to help with circulation
- Take a warm bath before bed
- Massage cramped legs; get up and walk around
- Do not take quinine as this can cause hearing loss in your baby
Round ligament pain is one of those things that I had never heard of pregnant people talking about. I was really worried when I got pregnant with Karis and I stood up too quickly and had this HORRIBLE pain in my side. I thought there was something wrong! This is completely normal; it is from the uterus growing and the weight on the ligaments on your sides. The only thing that can help prevent this is being careful not to turn too sharply or get up too quickly.
More Blood Flow in your body
Because of this, you will have bleeding gums, headaches, varicose veins, nosebleeds, heart pounding, etc. This is normal.
- Get plenty of exercise
- Get plenty of Vitamin C
- Avoid standing for long periods of time
- Stretch often
- Relax and rest
Not being able to fall asleep, or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep is the one discomfort that I think every pregnant women struggles with. I always say that it's just God's way of preparing you for a newborn J. There are a few things you can do to make it easier:
- Take a multimineral supplement before bed (with vitamin C). Much of the time, your body just needs more magnesium and calcium. Some food based forms of these are: dark, leafy, green vegetables, salmon, nuts, seeds, molasses, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, etc.
- Warm bath right before bed with or without lavender oil
- Avoid caffeine
- Maintain a regular sleeping schedule
- Read before bed J (this always makes me sleepy!!)
- Exercise daily (sitting around all day will make it very hard to sleep)
Supplements and herbs
Supplements are one of those things that aren't completely necessary if you eat exactly the way you are supposed to, but I don't know anyone who does that all of the time. I think if you decide not to take them (they are expensive), it's not the end of the world, but I believe that you and your baby can benefit from them. I don't list all of these supplements saying that it is completely necessary, even, to take all of them. But, I am just giving you information on different things that are good for baby and mommy.
Food Based Prenatal Vitamin
If I could give any advice on natural pregnancy, it would be to avoid taking generic or prescription prenatal vitamins, and stick to a natural, food based one. Not only are you and your baby getting more whole foods, you will be taking something that is so much better on your body. It helps with nausea, constipation, etc. I PROMISE it makes a huge difference. Those who have struggled with taking a prenatal vitamin because of what it did to your body; it was probably because it wasn't food based. It makes a huge difference.
Some good brands are:
New Chapter Perfect Prenatal (great, but expensive), New Life Prenatal, MegaFoods Baby and Me, and Nature's Plus Source of Life (the least expensive).
My midwife recently recommended one that I had never heard of, and I plan to start taking it when I run out of the ones that I have. It is called Super Nutrition Prenatal. This one has the most of everything that I have ever seen. I won't have to take a multimineral in order to get enough minerals if I take this because it has a LARGE amount of minerals (which is great because most prenatals don't provide near enough minerals). It is green superfoods based as well, and has several herbs, etc. It is a great prenatal. (Lucky vitamin shows that it only has 500 IU's of Vitamin A, but that is incorrect. All other websites show that it has 5000 IU's)
It contains electrolytes, vitamin C and other vitamins, boosts your immune system and it just gives you a good energy boost. It is best to take this around lunch time. I believe that even people who aren't pregnant should take this, especially when they are sick. I still take it at times. You can buy Emergen-C online or pretty much at any store, in the over-the-counter section.
Taking a multimineral supplement will help you sleep, help with leg cramps, help prevent anemia, and help decrease nausea. I took Solaray Mega Multiminerals. Make sure to take this with some form of Vitamin C (to aid in iron absorption; oranges, tangerines, tomatoes, orange juice, cantaloupe, etc) and right before bed. This is one of those things that isn't completely necessary if you eat the way you should, but I know that it helped me to take it, so I'm sharing it J.
If you take Super Nutrition Prenatals, you will not need to take a multi mineral at all (in fact, it's probably not a good idea because you would have mineral over load!).
There are so many benefits that it would be impossible to list them all, so I will just list some J: helps with depression, mood swings, immune system, prevention of cardiovascular disease, brain development, etc. The specific benefits in pregnancy are: lowering premature birth and low birth weight, new born allergies, helps in the development of baby's brain, and reduces risk of post partum depression.
Some great brands are Nordic Naturals, Barlean's, Carlson Labs, Enzymatic Therapy- Eskimo 3, and Twinlab. From what I have read, cod liver oil is the best source, but other good sources can be salmon, tuna, anchovy, sardine, etc. Make sure to buy one that does not contain any heavy metals and mercury as these are harmful for anyone.
Probiotics help with digestion, controlling yeast in the body, immune function, reduce allergies in newborns (up to 50%), prevents eczema in children, etc. According to WebMd, if you take/eat Probiotics, it can cut belly fat down after pregnancy. The best and most natural way to receive these are through yogurt. But, you can also take this in supplement form (though, I have always just eaten yogurt).
Alfalfa contains chlorophyll, beta carotene, fiber, digestive enzymes, and a high concentration of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. It also helps with clotting (through vitamin K), which reduces the possibility of postpartum hemorrhage. Alfalfa actually means "Father of Foods" because of the high concentration of nutrients.
Nettle leaves nourish the kidneys, ease leg cramps and other muscle spasms, diminishes pain after birth, is a great source of Vitamin K which helps to prevent hemorrhage, reduces hemorrhoids, diminishes varicose veins, and increases richness and amount of breast-milk.
Dandelion root provides vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, and other trace elements. It nourishes the liver and kidneys, and it can reduce water retention. Take this in moderation.
Pregnancy Tea- The best tea that I have found is Traditional Medicinals Organic Pregnancy Tea. Not only does it contain red raspberry leaf, it contains nettles, spearmint, alfalfa, rose hip, and bitter fennel which are nourishing to the pregnant body.
The greatest benefit to red raspberry leaf is that it tones uterine muscles to help aid in labor and delivery.
Herbs to Avoid When Pregnant
This list is very limited. For more information, see websites/blogs at the end.
- Black/blue cohosh (only to be taken at the end)
- Witchazel (you can use this externally, just not internally)
- Hops (this one is debatable)
- Juniper berries
- Golden seal
Using natural products such as shampoos, conditioners, body soaps, make ups, cleaners, and detergents are just as important as organic foods. This is important for anyone, but especially pregnant women. Commercial products contain cancer-causing agents, allergens, reproductive and developmental toxicity, etc. The best thing to do is lower the amount of products that you use, and search for products that are completely naturally made. The Cosmetic Database is a wonderful resource to find out which products are safe and which ones are not. Just because something is labeled natural, doesn't mean that it is actually natural. Do your research.
Here is an excerpt from an article on The Health Action Network Society website, titled "Phthalates and Parabens in Personal Care Products":
"Phthalates and parabens, due to their common chemical structure, mimic estrogen and are therefore xeno-estrogens. These foreign estrogens are also found in the birth control pill, herbicides, pesticides and PCBs. Once they latch onto the body's own estrogen receptors, the level of estrogen in the body rises. High levels of estrogen are linked to an increase in breast cancer, lowering of sperm counts, premature maturation of teenage girls, development of breasts in middle aged men, increase in the prevalence of premenstrual syndromes, early onset of menopause, greater incidence of prostate cancer and a rise in endocrine or hormone disorders. Could all of these be a result of the increasing paraben uptake by our body as well as all the other possible xeno-estrogens in our environment?"
These products are in most commercially made personal care products…
Preparation for labor and delivery
Evening Primrose Oil
EPO contains a fatty acid which your body uses to produce hormones (relaxin, estrogen, and progesterone) in pregnancy. This helps raise the hormone levels that are needed to soften the uterus, cervix, vagina, and pelvis. This is especially useful for those who have scarring from previous deliveries. This should not be taken until about 4 weeks before delivery.
Some good brands are: Solgar, Solaray, TwinLab, Nature's Plus, and Carlson Labs because they are cold pressed (this means no chemicals or heat were used to create them).
They are sold in 500mg to 1500mg. I bought and used 1300mg. My opinion is that it is better to buy the larger dosage because then I can take less J.
Christopher's Prenatal Formula
Christopher's Prenatal Formula is something that is a bit controversial because it contains an herb (black cohosh) that is on the "no-no" list. The reason it is on the list of herbs not to take is because it can be a uterine stimulant. It is perfectly safe to take in the last few weeks of pregnancy. The bottle says to take this the last six weeks, but I personally would save it for the last 2-3 weeks.
The reason to take this is that it aids in the elasticity of the pelvic and vaginal area as well as strengthening the reproductive organs for delivery. I have heard from many that this works very well. I have never taken it (because I didn't know about it when I was pregnant in the past).
This is one of those things that you can choose to take if you wish, but most likely things would turn out fine if you didn't. If you have long, hard labors, it might be a good idea.
Books and Websites/Blogs for more information
The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutrition, and Other Holistic Choices by Aviva Jill Romm- I checked this out from the library at one point, and I should have bought it!! This has a lot of information.
The Naturally Healthy Pregnancy by Shonda Parker- I haven't read this one, but I have her book Mommy Diagnostics and I love it, so I imagine that the natural pregnancy book will be worth reading. In fact, I may buy it if I ever get pregnant again one day.
Mothering Magazine's Having a Baby Naturally by Peggy O'Mara- I haven't read this one either, but I really like the Mothering website, so I'm sure it's great.
Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year by Susun S. Weed- I have flipped through this one at a book store and it looks very good.
Websites/Blogs (I don't follow every bit of the information on these websites, but they have a lot of information and research on nutrition, natural pregnancy, etc)
Keeper of the Home- Pregnancy
Passionate Homemaking- Natural Living Resources
Walk Slowly, Live Wildly- A Journey into Pregnancy and Birth
Natural Mom.com- Natural Alternatives
Mother Love- Herbs to Avoid in Pregnancy
Wonderful Midwives- Sam Evans and Kristen Elliott (both of them were at Ethan's birth)
Eat Wild- your source for finding pastured meat, poultry, and eggs in your area.
Local Harvest- a great way to find CSA's, Farmer's Markets, and Farms in your area.
Azure Standard- a wonderful source for all foods, if you live in the area that they deliver in. I don't, so I don't buy from them because shipping would be too much. But I wish I lived in their delivery area!!
Vitacost and Lucky Vitamin- these two websites carry the most inexpensive vitamins, supplements, herbs, etc that I have found anywhere. I have done a lot of searching!
As I learn more information, I will update this. So, keep checking back for additions/changes!